There is a fixed amount of money that is awarded to certain close relatives when someone dies in an accident. It applies to medical claims and other accidents when someone else is proved to be at fault. The sum is fixed by Parliament and is currently £12,980 and is called a ‘bereavement award’. It is Parliament’s financial assessment of the amount of money needed to compensate you for your grief and suffering from losing a loved one.
However, injustices have arisen (not only because the amount is small) but also because the people who are entitled to claim is limited by Parliament in the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. Surviving spouses (or civil partners) and the parents of children under 18 years of age are the only two groups who are eligible. If you are cohabitees or a parent of a child over the age of 18 you are not entitled. As about 17% of couples now living together are either not married or in a civil partnership it affects a lot of people.
Some of this injustice may be remedied shortly. A recent Court of Appeal case (Smith –v- Lancashire Teaching Hospitals) has declared that to exclude cohabitees is not compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. What does this mean? Sadly nothing for Miss Smith but there is now a hope that Parliament will look again at its definition of who can claim and extend it to cohabitees. However, with all things Brexit preoccupying the Government I am not hopeful this will be sorted any time soon.
Hilton Armstrong – December 2017